This production opens Monica Mason's last season as director of the Royal Ballet.
To recall the company as it was 10 years ago, after the dreadful year in which Ross Stretton's directorship had reduced the troupe to a confused and uncertain state – the Queen's Golden Jubilee gala remains a nightmare for those who sat incredulously through it – is to recognise how much Dame Monica has achieved in re-invigorating the company and its identity.
remembered Clement Crisp in the Financial Times. And Dame Monica seems to have chosen well with Balanchine's Jewels to kick off the ballet season.
First up is the introspective Emeralds, “so restrained it was almost bashful” commented Mark Monahan in The Telegraph. As The Daily Express‘s Caroline Jowett overheard in the foyer,
Emeralds is bound to be a bit flat, the dancers are already on a downer because they are not in Rubies.”
Well Rubies is naturally nearer the musical heart of 20-somethings, but Emeralds, maybe less fun to dance, offers the greater artistic challenge. The Independent on Sunday‘s Jenny Gilbert, loathes the piece,
Emeralds, the Romantic opener set to second-rate Fauré, is so demure and low-key that you almost expire with longing for an interval drink. Tamara Rojo's glimmering contribution aside, it could be scrapped tomorrow and no one would mourn it.
Debra Craine in The Times thinks differently,
Emeralds, set to Fauré, is always the hardest to pull off. You really have to feel the uplift of its Romantic mood and the pull of its delicate finery.
But pull it off they did, said Judith Mackrell in The Guardian,
[Tamara Rojo] deploys her rare legato quality to delicately pastoral effect, hinting at reverie, mischief and love without breaking the spell of her dreaming trance. [Leanne] Benjamin is her more playful ballerina sister – her quick, bright footwork hearing a more spritely, fairy music in Fauré's accompanying score.
Jowett commented rather poetically,
The principal girls Tamara Rojo and Leanne Benjamin are wonderfully flowing as they thread and weave like green ribbons through the corps. Nehemiah Kish commands the stage and it would be interesting to see him tackle more demanding roles.
Though David Dougill for The Sunday Times found Kish “rather colourless”. Luke Jennings, writing for The Observer, admired Rojo too, but didn't forget her partner,
Rojo, herself something of an enigma, has made this role her own, but praise too to [Ryoichi] Hirano, whose skilful, sympathetic partnering so eloquently frames her performance.
Ismene Brown for The Arts Desk noted,
Tamara Rojo's ability to conjure the most fleeting nuances of thought in her sensuously winding arms is unparalleled in the company.
In complete constrast is the jazzy Rubies, the crowd-pleaser of the trio.
A blaze of muscular wit, of streetwise manners, of laser-cut dance shaped by New York and its take-no-prisoners energies,
says Crisp. Though Jennings finds the ballet “easier to admire than to love”. Monahan loved the girls,
Sarah Lamb had fun and a handful of eye-widening moments, but overall she didn't quite capture the Manhattanite angularity of Balanchine's choreography here. By contrast, Zenaida Yanowsky, as the Amazonian gooseberry, got it spot on, her phrasing tight, ever-so-slightly brassy, and immensely watchable.
but, like others, was puzzled by Steven McRae.
My only cavil – not for the first time with him – is that there were points, especially at the start, where the showman in him took over from the ballet dancer (he was an expert tapper by the age of 12), and some camperie crept in. Not a terrible crime, but it was distracting.
As was Craine,
Steven McRae's cocksure attitude was all wrong.
Yet Crisp wrote,
In super-human and unbeatable fashion, was Steven McRae, riding on the crest of the dance with an insouciant mastery.
And Sarah Frater for The Evening Standard thought likewise,
Steven McRae debuted in the ballet and outdanced both Lamb and Yanowsky, a considerable achievement considering their experience, skill and charisma.
Horses for courses. Brown also had reservations about the company,
As in Emeralds, the corps rather lumped its way through, the Twenties syncopations of Stravinsky's jazzy 1929 piano Capriccio not getting under anyone's skin.
In Balanchine's tribute to his St Petersburg roots, Diamonds recalls the regal grandeur of Petipa, and Balanchine chose Tchaikovsky's Polish symphony to accompany the last of the three ballets.
The concluding Diamonds I thought needed cleaning, polishing.
thought Crisp. The central couple, though, pleased.
Alina Cojocaru and Rupert Pennefather never break eye contact as they approach each other across the stage, to wind through choreography that glitters and melts. Cojocaru finesses every moment with a jeweller's art. But the audience love her, too, for the passion with which she pushes the choreography to its climactic limits. There is beguiling tenderness in her dancing, but also fire and ice.
said Mackrell, and Frater was in agreement,
Its lead couple were Alina Cojocaru and Rupert Pennefather, whose polish and artistry are disarming. Cojocaru was the evening's stand-out. As well as perfect placement and elegant manners, she conveys a downy-soft artistic conviction that sustains your belief in ballet, which is not about pretty steps or expensive gems, but human longing.
Cojocaru was indeed the evening's stand-out: for Monahan,
The Romanian sylph seemed taller, stronger, lighter and faster than everyone else on stage.
…a jewel of an artist, a petite princess of rarest sweetness…
Alina Cojocaru is the most gorgeous jewel of the evening.
Though Dougill found Pennefather “courtly but dull”, it was Crisp who had some harsh words about both,
Alina Cojocaru and Rupert Pennefather do their eager, ingratiating best, but they seem ill at ease: the lineage, the grand titles, the great families, are not theirs.
Ingratiating? Ouch! But he gave the evening a four-star review anyway.
And let's not forget the sets. Hugely disliked from the outset, as Monahan reminds us,
Three boos, though, to Jean-Marc Puissant's sets, which look more vulgar with each viewing.
Jean-Marc Puissant's designs — chandeliers and swag curtains — are a dull accompaniment to Barbara Karinska's colourful costumes, and Diamonds needs more sparkle in its look.
Finally, the music. Not an easy evening for the orchestra with three such different styles and moods, but Valeriy Ovsyanikov and the Covent Garden orchestra triumph, says Monahan,
Photos: all photographs © Royal Opera House / Johan Persson
Three cheers to the Royal Opera House orchestra (especially the brass).
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.